Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lessons from Billy

I copied down a lot of quotes from Billy (some are surely not completely accurate, but all are close). I'd be curious to hear lessons that others wrote down, if any!

"The voice is external--it is made up of other voices. A fresh or original voice is composed of other voices but the influences are not as obvious."

"This is a fuck-you poem to The Wasteland." (on Nantucket, by William Carlos Williams)

"Poetry is harder than writing." (quoting a student; Billy called this statement simultaneously stupid and profound.)

"An editor isn't looking for the next break-through poet. He or she isn't looking for an emotionally transcendent experience. An editor is looking for only one thing: a reason to stop reading. A deal-breaker."

"Walk the reader through the rooms of the poem."

"Form gets your mind off yourself."

"A good poem starts in Kansas and ends up in Oz."

"Lots of bad poems start in Oz--I don't know how you got there, and you certainly didn't take me along."

"Readers are not turned on by earnestness. Sincerity is not enough."

"You have to tell your reader a small lie. The lie is that you love poetry more than you love yourself. Which isn't true."

"Jealousy drives creativity. Professors call it literary influence--but really it's envy."

"For the reader to be emotional, you can't be emotional--you need to be calculating."


  1. Thank you, Elise. Nice to see you again.

    Some more:

    "Poetry is the displacement of silence."

    "All that is personal rots unless it is preserved by ice or salt" from Yeats, via B.C., where ice and salt are rhyme and meter.

    "No line must sleep" – from Charles Olson via B.C.

    "Art is the transfer of feeling from one heart to another." – Tolstoy via Dubus?

  2. Thank you for posting all of these, Tony. Sorry it's taken me forever to sign on here. We had Food & Wine in Aspen and then moved immediately into a new apartment in the Boulder area. In any case, here I am, and so glad to be back with my poetry community. I'm so glad you posted these quotes for us. Here are a few more I jotted down:

    "Good writing occurs when self-consciousness leaves."

    "The dislodging of logic is humorous."

    "Use humor as a strategy rather than an end result."

    "You need to know when to be obvious and when to be mysterious."